Category: Guest Posts

Measure rainfall, help scientists learn more about Hurricane Irene

By The Intersection | August 27, 2011 9:44 am

This is a guest post from Darlene Cavalier, founder of Science Cheerleader and Science For Citizens and contributing editor at Discover Magazine.

Scientists want you to record and share rain measurements and other on-the-ground observations in part to help pinpoint hurricane Irene’s actions, determine her next steps, and better predict and react to future storms. In addition to your help recording on-the-ground rain precipitation, scientists rely on watershed volunteers to provide important clues about the effects of storm-water runoff, carbon cycles of waterways, etc. Here’s a list of opportunities to get involved in local watershed monitoring efforts.

To help scientists record on-the-ground rain measurements, you will need a high capacity rain gauge.

Don’t have a rain gauge? Enter here to win a free one so you can join in next time! Through the Changing Planet series, a partnership with National Science Foundation, NBC Learn, and DISCOVER Magazine, we’re offering up to 20 of these gauges to our members, free of charge ($25 value).

(Note: Safety first. Please heed all evacuation recommendations issued in your area.)

Not able to collect and measure rainfall? Anyone with a computer can also get into the act. The Philadelphia Inquirer published sites where you can find real-time information from ocean buoys, bridges, area stream gauges, and even satellites. [Find list of links, below.]

Here are some opportunities for you to measure rainfall:

CoCoRaHS: Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) is a volunteer network of backyard weather observers. People of all ages measure and map precipitation (rain, hail and snow) in communities across the United States. The data is used by a wide range of agencies and programs.Volunteers are needed for two programs.
SKYWARN SKYWARN spotters are essential information sources for the National Weather Service with the responsibility to identify and describe severe local storms. Observations by spotters helps the National Weather Service issue more timely and accurate warnings for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, and flash floods and thus save lives.
Rainlog Not on the east coast? Here’s one for south westerners. Join RainLog‘s network of over 1,000 volunteers that use backyard rain gauges to monitor precipitation across Arizona and in neighboring states. Data collected through this network will be used for a variety of applications, from watershed management activities to drought planning at local, county, and state levels.
Tracking Climate in Your Backyard Kids: Tracking Climate in Your Backyard seeks to engage youth in real science through the collection, recording, and understanding of precipitation data in the forms of rain, hail, and snow.

Here are some websites, originally published by the Philadelphia Inquirer, that post data and images to answer the following questions:

How fast is the nearest stream rising?
A U.S. Geological Survey site logs data from stream gauges.

Is there a storm-surge tracking map?
Developing, by the U.S. Geological Survey.

How hard is it blowing in your neighborhood?
Greg Heavener, National Weather Service meteorologist in Mount Holly, recommends this site, where people with personal stations upload their data. Searchable by zip code.

What are Delaware River observations?
Includes data from water-level sensors installed on bridges after past floods.

What’s happening offshore?
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association logs ocean-buoy data, including wind speed and wave heights.
Rutgers University is part of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Association Coastal Ocean Observing System, which posts data on satellites and the underwater “gliders.” Has an Irene science blog.

What does Irene look like?
The National Weather Service’s Hurricane Center has the most recent forecasts, including radar images and wind-speed probabilities.

How about from space?
NASA images and video. mission_pages/hurricanes/main/index.html

Did you feel the earthquake?

By The Intersection | August 23, 2011 7:10 pm

This is a guest post from Darlene Cavalier, founder of Science Cheerleader and Science For Citizens, and a contributing editor at Discover Magazine.

Did you feel the earthquake? Here are three ways you can report earthquake-related information and contribute to a global map of critical earthquake data.
Did you feel it? Help researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey learn more about the recent earthquake that shook parts of the east coast. Did you feel it? Share information and contribute to a map of shaking intensities and damage.

The US Geological Survey’s Twitter Earthquake Detection Program gathers real-time, earthquake-related messages from Twitter and applies place, time, and keyword filtering to gather geo-located accounts of shaking

Stanford University’s Quake-Catcher Network links existing networked laptops and desktops in hopes to form the world’s largest and densest earthquake monitoring system.

For a basic primer on earthquakes, here’s more from Science Cheerleader, Christine.

For more citizen science projects you can do, visit Science For Citizens, a partner in the Changing Planet series produced by Discover magazine, NBC Learn and the National Science Foundation.


Arizona Cardinals (SCIENCE) Cheerleaders: Ask them anything.

By The Intersection | August 16, 2011 6:30 pm

Guest blog post from Darlene Cavalier, founder of Science Cheerleader and Science For Citizens and contributing editor at Discover magazine.

Arizona Cardinals Science-minded Cheerleaders Will Take Your Questions Now.

Six Arizona Cardinals cheerleaders, pursuing science and engineering careers, are now fielding questions from the public. Ask them anything. Questions with the most votes from the public will be answered by the cheerleaders during a videotaped interview on August 25.

The Science Cheerleaders are part of a troop of more than 100 current and former NFL and NBA cheerleaders pursuing science careers. Their goal is to playfully challenge stereotypes and inspire young women to consider science and technology fields.

These women are mathematicians, medical doctors, chemists and engineers. Their goal is to challenge the stereotypical image of
female scientists as lonely, unhappy, lab rats and show young girls that there is another path forward.

The Science Cheerleaders have demonstrated an ability to connect to groups traditionally underrepresented in science and technology fields, potentially broadening educational and workforce funnel.

Cheerleaders from the Redskins, Titans, Chiefs, Texans, Eagles, and Rams among others perform across the nation, shaking their pom poms and divulging science and math facts about energy, electricity, atoms, math, and engineering. They even get crowds to participate in citizen science projects.

At the live events, the Science Cheerleaders are often asked, “What’s it like to be a cheerleader AND a scientist?” or “When did you first know you wanted to be an engineer?” “How do you deal with the extreme stereotypes?”

Now’s your chance! The 2011-2012 Arizona Cardinals Cheerleaders have offered to answer the most popular questions
submitted through Tuesday August 23rd (one week!). We’ll be visiting their training facility in Tempe, AZ, the following week to get all the answers.

People can submit questions to these Science Cheerleaders by tweeting to @SciCheer or commenting on the blog post,
the YouTube video, or Facebook Page.

Here’s a sample of who some of these remarkable women are. (Take a look and then ask ’em anything by August 23rd!)

Hi, I’m Samantha, and I’m not just you’re average cheerleader; I’m studying Engineering Management with a focus in Mechanical Engineering at Arizona State University. I am also a national member of the Society of Women Engineers and currently interning at Microchip Technology. This is my rookie year as an Arizona Cardinals Cheerleader, but I have been dancing my whole life and even won the national pom championship my senior year of high school.

Hi, my name is Maria, and I am a rookie member of the 2011 Arizona Cardinals Cheerleaders. I graduated from Rice University with a degree in political science and earned my J.D. from the University of Arizona in 2010. When it’s not gameday, you can find me at work as an Advocacy Specialist for the Girl Scouts, where I collaborate with local lawmakers on policies to provide increased exposure to the national Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math initiative. Helping to promote the next generation of female scientists, engineers, IT professionals, and mathematicians is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job!

My name is Jacque, and I am a Licensed Professional Civil Engineer who received my B.S.E. in Civil Engineering from Arizona State University. I have been cheerleading since the age of five, and I am proud and honored to now be a professional cheerleader and a rookie member of the amazing Arizona Cardinals Cheerleaders.

Got a question? Something on your mind? Ask ’em anything before August 23!

Learn more about the Science Cheerleaders.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Guest Posts, Uncategorized

Alleged scientific fraud: lawsuit reveals DOE failures

By Chris Mooney | July 7, 2011 12:09 pm

This is a guest post by Eugenie Samuel Reich, a contributing correspondent for Nature.

Last time I posted on The Intersection, a couple of commenters were curious about a disclosure I made about having brought a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the US Department of Energy (DOE), to obtain a report into alleged scientific fraud at Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL).

So I thought that Intersection readers might be interested in my article, out today in Nature, reporting on the lawsuit’s progress.

The fraud allegations in the case date back to 2006. That year, a group of researchers led by Stephen Pennycook were accused of fabricating data; which they have strongly denied. Pennycook’s research involves developing cutting-edge techniques for imaging materials using an electron microscope, which can solve problems in nanotechnology, energy research, and condensed matter physics. His group receives about $2 million per year from DOE. Read More


Sexy Science? The New Glam of Science in Advertising

By Chris Mooney | June 10, 2011 9:37 am

This is a guest post by Dr. Jeffrey H. Toney, an educator and scientist whose career has spanned academia and the pharmaceutical industry, and currently serves as the dean of the College of Natural, Applied and Health Sciences at Kean University. He blogs regularly at ScienceBlogsNJ VoicesOpEdNews and The Huffington Post.

Sex sells…but can science?  Grabbing a consumer’s attention using sex goes beyond branding.  In fact:

…sex is an inherent, inseparable brand message. It is the message.

Scientific messages are becoming increasingly apparent in advertisements, whether as claims of health benefits (“clinically proven”) or trumpeting a “scientific breakthrough” displayed, inexplicably, by showing chemical structures or dramatic hi-tech animations.  This is a curious schizophrenia.  On the one hand, the public is often disinterested and skeptical of scientific claims, often confusing facts with opinions.  Evolution and climate change are obvious examples.

Coverage of science in the news media has declined dramatically:

“For every five hours of cable news, less than a minute is devoted to science; 46 percent of Americans reject evolution and think the Earth is less than 10,000 years old; the number of newspapers with weekly science sections has shrunken by two-thirds over the past several decades.”

On the other hand, use of science within advertising somehow bestows upon the product a higher status, a gravitas, the excitement that this thing that the consumer must have is one of a kind, a rare breakthrough discovery.  More perplexing is the way that science is presented in these ads – as something mysterious (chemical structures fly across the screen), as something utterly confusing to the non-scientist. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Guest Posts

Ancient Echoes from the Mediterranean Resonate with Modern Climate Fight

By The Intersection | May 9, 2011 12:21 pm

This is a guest post by Jamie L. Vernon, Ph.D., an HIV research scientist and aspiring policy wonk, who recently moved to D.C. to get a taste of the action

Well, today Chris is somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea. For those who aren’t aware, he is on the Center for Inquiry Travel Club Cruise with the likes of Joyce Salisbury, Lawrence Krauss and Phil Plait.  I can only imagine the discussions they are having as they travel across seas that were once the battlegrounds for control of ideas and thought in the world. Most often those conflicts occurred between religious and scientific views, which in many cases is not very different from what is occurring today.

The cruise will be visiting ports of call in Italy and the Greek Islands, places where no man or woman can visit without reflecting on the scientific history that began there.

Will Phil Plait take a late night stroll on the upper deck to catch a glimpse of our galaxy as it passes overhead? If so, will he think about the fact that our galaxy, the study of which has forced massive changes in religious thought, ultimately bears its name because of the story of a jealous Greek goddess?

Hera, the wife of Zeus, is said to have spilled the milk from her breast when she forced Herecles, the child born of one of Zeus’ adulterous escapades, to stop suckling. The spilled milk appeared in the sky and became known as the Milky Way.

Will Lawrence Krauss catch a glimpse of a star from his balcony and remember that if not for Copernicus’ observation that the universe does not revolve around the Earth but rather the Earth revolves around the Sun, if not for this observation, the Scientific Revolution may never have occurred?

Will Chris Mooney pace along the main deck and ponder the challenges Galileo faced after he developed the scientific methods to prove Copernicus’ theory of heliocentrism? Read More

What is Motivated Reasoning? How Does It Work? Dan Kahan Answers

By Chris Mooney | May 5, 2011 8:32 am

I recently came across this post at Science & Religion Today, authored by Dan Kahan, who is the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor at Yale Law School. It clarifies so many important issues about motivated reasoning–what it is, what it isn’t–that I asked Kahan if I could repost it here, as I think it deserves very wide circulation. He said okay. So here goes:

Recently, scholars and commentators have drawn attention to the contribution of “motivated cognition” to diverse political conflicts, including climate change and the birthplace of President Obama. I will offer a few points to help people assess such claims.

1. To begin, motivated cognition refers to the unconscious tendency of individuals to fit their processing of information to conclusions that suit some end or goal. Consider a classic example. In the 1950s, psychologists asked experimental subjects, students from two Ivy League colleges, to watch a film that featured a set of controversial officiating calls made during a football game between teams from their respective schools. The students from each school were more likely to see the referees’ calls as correct when it favored their school than when it favored their rival. The researchers concluded that the emotional stake the students had in affirming their loyalty to their respective institutions shaped what they saw on the tape.

The end or goal motivates the cognition in the sense that it directs mental operations—in this case, sensory perceptions; in others, assessments of the weight and credibility of empirical evidence, or performance of mathematical or logical computation—that we expect to function independently of that goal or end. But the normal connotation of “motive” as a conscious goal or reason for acting is actually out of place here and can be a source of confusion. The students wanted to experience solidarity with their institutions, but they didn’t treat that as a conscious reason for seeing what they saw. They had no idea (or so we are to believe; one needs a good experimental design to be sure this is so) that their perceptions were being bent in this way. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Guest Posts, Motivated Reasoning

Don't let the white lab coat fool ya. The Capitol Hill-ready suit and tie are hidden under my research bench.

By The Intersection | May 4, 2011 10:03 am

This is a guest post by Jamie L. Vernon, Ph.D., an HIV research scientist and aspiring policy wonk, who recently moved to D.C. to get a taste of the action

Good morning, Intersection readers.
It is appropriate that today is “Star Wars Day” because I will need the “force” as I step in to do some writing while Chris is away.

I may lack Sheril’s beauty and womanly perspective, but I hope to provide stimulating and thought-provoking content for the regular readers over the next few days.  You may know me from Twitter (or not) or you may have occasionally read my blog (or not).  If so, then you know that I’m currently working as a postdoctoral research scientist at the National Cancer Institute (none of my views represent those of NCI or NIH).  Fortunately for the non-scientists, my research is easily explained; I’m currently working in a well-established lab that is developing a vaccine to prevent HIV infections.  If you’d like to know more about our antigen-presentation platform, feel free to comment on this post.

So, how did I get into the science communication community? A few years ago, an AAAS representative came to the University of Texas at Austin where I was doing my doctoral research.  She put out the call for scientists to become more involved in policy, particularly science policy.  Honestly, I wasn’t aware of opportunities for scientists to get involved in the policy-making process, so I began to do some research.  I found that there is a dearth of scientific participation in policy and I felt the need to answer the call.  I joined with a graduate student counterpart to establish a campus chapter of Scientists and Engineers for America at UT Austin.  We went on to do some exciting things with energy conservation on the UT campus.  I registered to testify in the Texas State Board of Education science standards hearings (a story I would love to tell you) and I began to encourage my classmates and other scientists to get involved in science policy.  In a more direct political way, I also volunteered for the  Obama campaign.  I was selected to be a precinct captain for the campaign and I eventually was elected by the voters in my district to be the Democratic Party Temporary Precinct Chairman, which empowered me to run our Democratic caucuses (Obama defeated Clinton by receiving 66% of the votes).  Suffice it to say that I lean a little to the left, but you might be surprised to know where I agree with the right.  Each of these experiences provided more insight into how our government works and how policy is made for us. They also reinforced my perception that government needs more of a scientific perspective, which can only be achieved by more participation by scientists.

One way scientists can participate in policy is to help shape the public’s view of us, preferably in a positive way.  To do this, scientists must make themselves available to the community-at-large.  To help meet this need, I created a science cafe called Science in the Pub that allows scientists to talk about their research in an environment that is more inviting for the public.  This venture has been and continues to be, thanks to Joe Hanson, a huge success with crowds of 50 or more people, scientists and non-scientists, attending on a regular basis.  For some, an easier way to form a relationship with the public is to start a blog.  I’m planning to write more about the fascinating world of science blogging and its impact on science policy, so I’ll save that for later.  I started my blog to create a log of my thoughts on science policy issues.  It turned out to be an effective tool for developing relationships in the science policy and science communication world that have positively influenced my career.  Beyond blogging and science cafes, the opportunities to get involved are limitless and I encourage all scientists to make it their goal to get out there.  Needless to say, we’ve got a lot of work to do.

As for me, I chose to make the ultimate commitment and move to Washington, D.C. so that I could be as involved as much as my time would allow.  I’ve been fortunate to be welcomed by the science policy community, which is quite vibrant here.  If you’re wondering if I plan to go all the way by becoming a policy wonk, the answer is yes.  I’ll be a AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow in the future.

So, how did I get this gig at The Intersection? Well, it’s a not-so-amazing story that involves a science cafe, a cross-country move and the ScienceOnline conference, but I won’t bore you with the details (well just a few).  Basically, while doing my PhD in Texas, I invited Sheril to do a talk for Science in the Pub.  Sheril introduced me to Chris.  After moving to DC, where you’ll find The Intersection headquarters (have you seen the fancy diggs?!), Chris and I began talking science and policy over beers on a regular basis.  We took a roadtrip to the ScienceOnline conference in my home state of North Carolina and the rest is history.

Now, we get to the business at hand.  Like a substitute teacher, I expect some spitballs and out of order talking, but if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to share a few of my ideas and perhaps stimulate some constructive conversations.  I know that you can teach me much more than I can offer you so I look forward to your participation.  What I hope to accomplish over the next few days is to manage The Intersection the way I would manage my own blog if I were to fully dedicate myself to blogging on a regular basis.  I’m a new participant in the science online community, but I’ve been following the action for years, so I know some of the players and the rules of the game.  So, let us begin.

Over the coming days, I’ll be writing about things of interest to me.  As I’ve said, I’ll be discussing the role of science blogging in the policy-making process and I’ll be asking questions like, “Is the science online community effective as a science outreach tool?” and “Why has the Obama administration been so dreadful at providing scientific integrity guidelines in a timely manner?”

I look forward to your feedback.

Stay tuned for future posts.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Guest Posts, Uncategorized

Why the Harper Majority is a Step Back for Science – Let Us Count the Ways

By Chris Mooney | May 3, 2011 1:51 pm

This is a guest post by David Ng, a science literacy academic at the Michael Smith Laboratories of the University of British Columbia.

In case you missed it, last night saw the Canada election deliver a Conservative majority. It was an interesting and historic vote for a variety of reasons, but the bottom line is that now the Harper government is in a position to do pretty much as it pleases, given its position of majority power in both the House of Commons and the Canadian Senate.

As is the norm for any democratic action, this is good and bad depending on your perspective and ideals. Those who make their homes in the business or economic front generally see the result as a positive; whereas those who value fairness, ethical government practices, and social issues tend to look upon the election as a daunting and frustrating setback. In this mix, however, is the scientific point of view. And speaking as a Canadian scientist, I want to use this space to make the case that all things being considered, this is a fundamentally bad moment in history for Canadian science.

To do this, let’s access how the Harper government (not the “Government of Canada” as it was once officially called) has performed so far (in the science context anyway). Read More

Intersections and New Directions

By Chris Mooney | April 28, 2011 12:49 pm

History sometimes has a strange–and in this case, also very nostalgia evoking–way of echoing itself.

In May of 2007, I took a trip to Venice, Italy, to attend a friend’s wedding. I wasn’t going to be able to blog, so I called for guest bloggers. I selected Sheril Kirshenbaum, who proceeded to blog so successfully and so popularly that upon my return, I asked her to stay. She did, and the rest is four years of history–history that just officially ended today.

Now, May of 2011 approaches, and next week I depart for Venice, Italy, to begin the Center for Inquiry travel club’s Mediterranean Cruise, where I’ll be joined by our very own Phil Plait and Lawrence Krauss, among others. Appropriately enough, I’ve been referring to this as a tour of the “Geek Islands.”

And once again, it is time for another “Intersection” transition, albeit of a very different type. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Announcements, Guest Posts, Personal

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar